Hans H. Curvers (1995)

Reconstruction of life in the past is the main goal of archeology. The data available to the archeologist to obtain this goal vary from tiny bits of silex, through delicate human statues to monumental pyramids and sacred temple precincts. The methods and conditions in which these data are collected have varied throughout archeological history.

Archeology started as the mere collection of exotica and aimed at the classification and exhibition of these items. After establishing a Stone Age (Paleolithic and Neolithic), Copper/Stone Age (Chalcolithic), and finally a Bronze and Iron age data were collected in order to refine chronology. Within the defined chronological framework archeologists were able to reconstruct human life in an evolutionary perspective. The the introduction of agriculture (10,000 B.C) was followed by a period of the first villages (8,000 B.C.), first cities (3500 B.C.) and finally the first empires (2300 B.C.). Archeology became more and more a discipline in which geologists, biologists, philologists, geographers, anthropologists cooperated to analyze all the bits and pieces retrieved from the excavations. Archeology also became part of the urban contexts in which rapid development and construction destroyed many vestiges of the cultural heritage.

Recent developments throughout the world such as the greater awareness about the consequences of modern human activities for cultural and environmental resources have led to a second phase in which the integration of archeology into regional and urban planning is a tradition. In contrast to the past the concerns about the role of cultural heritage have become critical points on the schedule of meetings and conferences in which archeological consultants explain and defined their positions. The image of the archeologists is changing from the Indiana Jones type uncovering one treasure after the other to a person studying files and plans regarding future construction and developmental works and the best solution for both contractor and archeologists to work side by side.

New techniques such as non-destructive methods to inventorize the archeological remains with the help of radar, electric conduction or magnetography allow the archeologist to evaluate the cultural resources. Do these remains contribute to the regional or urban landscape in the sense that there preservation allows for an important landmark, or monument and is the maintenance of this project feasible in the future or can these remains be left untouched for future generations. These are the extremes from which the archeological consultant or manager has to select. The data collected by the archeologists are still used to refine chronology, for the reconstruction of daily life in the past, but also to define the cultural future of a city or region.

The archeologists of the future are responsible as they always have been for the reconstruction of the past, a new dimension will be their involvement in planning the future landscape of the regions or cities their sites are located in.

BCD (Beirut Central District) Infrastructure works

In November 1993 the infrastructural works in the BCD started. Archeologists and contractors as well as the developers unaware of their future symbiosis. Every party in this operation with its own agenda. Clashes were to be expected -- it was far from love at first sight -- mutual respect and confidence had to be cultivated.

The archeologists deal with developers who have their budget and try to avoid any delay, the contractors have to worry about the quality of their work and their time schedule. An archeologist has no limits as far as time is concerned. His limits are money, the extension of the ancient vestiges to be investigated. Time, however, in an urban context becomes a precious good, also for the archeologists. This provides new constraints to the methods of excavation.

In case the archeologist has an unlimited number of experienced collaborators at his disposal the time problem can be solved. In Lebanon, however, we are faced with the problem that fieldwork had been interrupted for a long period. To bring foreign archeologists would be a short-term solution, whereas the education of Lebanese students on site would be a solution that in the long-term would bring back Lebanese archeology on the pre-war level.

The archeology and the infrastructural works therefore, provide a unique opportunity for Lebanese students to experience urban archeology. The strategies vary widely but there a two main approaches. The first approach follows the constructors and leads to stopping their excavations as soon as ancient remains are exposed, another approach is working far ahead of the constructors on the basis of their time schedules and the plans of the developers. The latter would be the most convenient approach for the archeologists.

Time constraints, unexpected difficulties faced by all three parties involved in this project do not allow the archeologist to work independently. The archeologists have to be flexible in their planning, this means working with small teams is most important. In the BCD small archeological teams that consist of four workers responsible for removing soil and cleaning the ancient remains, are being surpervised by students, responsible for the documentation of the exposed remains. These units are the operational basic elements for the archeological investigations in the BCD. In addition to these field units a laboratory processes all the finds collected by the units.

The archeological units in the field work according to fixed standards, every team removes soil in six squares of two by two meter. This may seem inflexible, but in reality the equivalent of these 4.8 m2 are removed. It allows the archeological planner to be precise with his time schedule. In return it allows the contractors and developers to develop respect and confidence in archeology as a technical and anthropological discipline. It is in this contexts that archeology can contribute to a dialogue.

The form of this dialogue should rather be cyclic than linear. This will allow an approach in which both archeologists and urban planners in the reconstruction of Beirut continuously regard their activities as part of one project. Instead of a linear approach in which archeology is a preliminary phase in the process of reconstruction, the activities of the archeological team of the Instituut voor Pre- and Protohistorische Archeologie (IPP) of the University of Amsterdam aim at the collection of data which can be processed and used to develop ancient concepts of urban life in Beirut.

This file was received from Hans Curvers in Beirut at the end of July 1995.

Børre Ludvigsen